In Support of Syrian Refugees, A Hmong Perspective
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Posted by: Nick Lee
My father swam across all the many miles of the Mekong River from Laos to Thailand in 1986 to save his life, like the thousands of other Hmong individuals dislocated by America's secret, proxy wars in Laos and Cambodia.
Despite the Vietnam War's official end in 1975, Hmong, Mien, Lao, Cambodian, and Vietnamese who fought alongside America's armed forces continued to be persecuted by their governments for over a decade. The flight of these persecuted individuals for a safer home led to the largest wave of refugees ever resettled in the United States and the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, which gave the President broad authority to handle refugee crises. Our country provided for my people because America had a moral obligation to reaffirm our humanity despite those who would deny it.
"I was sixteen when we escaped. We walked during the nights and hid in the thickets during daylight," my father once told me. "It took my group fifteen days to make it from the Phou Bia Mountain to the Mekong. We ran down hills, through the forests, and over corpses and fresh blood, avoiding roads. Parents with infants often slipped their opium dipped thumbs into the mouths of their children to quiet them. Some gave their kids too much, and those children never woke up. Those who fell sick, got injured, or were too hungry to run were often left behind."
Today, I see my family's struggle in the crisis in Syria. Decades of conflict in the region has resulted in the rise of a murderous terrorist regime and the displacement of over three million innocent Syrian refugees who face the same fear of death and persecution my family did in Laos. President Barack Obama plans to provide some refugees resettlement in the United States. However, despite their lack of legal authority to do so, governors in over a dozen states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, recently expressed their intent to deny Syrian refugees residency.
These anti-refugee declarations come in light of revelations that a suspect in the Paris attack could have entered France by falsifying a Syrian travel document and posing as a refugee. However, the allegation of the falsified record of one individual does not invalidate the continued trauma experienced by the ten thousand refugees the President intends to resettle or the millions worldwide. Refugees often must go through scrutiny by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to even be deemed a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Those selected to immigrate to the United States then must undergo another round of extensive vetting by the United States. On average, it takes individuals seeking resettlement here 18 - 24 months to go through the entire process.
Despite that scrutiny, through anti-Islamic and xenophobic rhetoric, these governors have announced their intent to deny Syrian refugees the safety that has already been taken away from them in their home country despite the fact that any refugee immigrating to the United States must go through a double layer of intense scrutiny by both the United Nations and our own security process. But we know that being of a specific race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or religion does not make an individual a terrorist. Our experiences have shown us time and again that when there is a humanitarian crisis, our country must come together to act in line with the values we claim. In the face of terror and tragedy, we are stronger when we affirm our humanity through kindness, love, and generosity, not overzealous scrutiny and fearmongering.
Some Members of Congress and Presidential Candidates have called upon Congress to delay the already arduous vetting process even longer than the two years it takes to allow Syrian refugees into the United States. We urge you to call your governor, representative, and senators to let them know what you support the President's plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States. We also urge you to sign this petition by South East Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) in support of Syrian refugees HERE.
My family and others like us were able to escape death, leave the refugee camps, and live a more fulfilling and privileged life because of the collective efforts of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and others who believed in the ideals that America stands for. We must advocate for our country to resettle refugees caught in a struggle beyond their control. It is our moral obligation. America chose to do the right thing, and my family is better for it. We cannot submit to the forces of fear and hatred and must instead continue our country's long history of welcoming those fleeing harm into the fabric of our society.
Kham S. Moua
OCA Policy and Communications Manager